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Senators Subpoena The White House
The existence of the classified program was revealed in media reports in December 2005, angering lawmakers who called the program an infringement of civil liberties. The Bush administration has defended it as crucial to protecting the nation from further attacks.
Congressional interest in the program was stoked by testimony last month by former deputy attorney general James B. Comey that in 2004, Gonzales, then White House counsel, tried to pressure then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft to recertify a controversial part of the program while Ashcroft was recovering from gallbladder surgery.
Ashcroft refused to abandon his objections, which have not been disclosed, and the White House initially recertified the part of the program at issue without obtaining a routine affirmation of its legality from the Justice Department. Bush backed down, however, when Ashcroft, Comey and other Justice officials threatened to resign, and some changes were made to obtain the Justice Department's approval.
"After we learned from Jim Comey about the late-night hospital visit to John Ashcroft's bedside, it was even more imperative that we find out the who, what, how and why surrounding the wiretapping of Americans without warrants," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The Judiciary Committee, seeming frustrated by what Leahy called "stonewalling" of its requests for information, approved the subpoenas last week. Three Republicans joined Democrats in the 13 to 3 vote to authorize the subpoenas.
"The bipartisan support for issuing these subpoenas demonstrates that both Democrats and Republicans are fed up with the misleading statements from the attorney general and the administration about this illegal program," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a member of the committee.
In January, Bush announced that the original eavesdropping program would in the future be supervised by a special intelligence court. An administration proposal to overhaul the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is pending in Congress.
Civil libertarians applauded the committee's action. "It is really time that Congress starts getting to the bottom of the administration's illegal spying program," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Washingtonpost.com staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.